Learning how to interpret Dog Signals

TDS Jan 4 2016I’ve been told that I’m good at reading dog signals.  Maybe better than reading human signals but that’s another story.  What I love is being able to communicate effectively not only with my own dogs but with all dogs that I meet.  Dogs speak to us in a variety of ways and the better we understand their signals the deeper our relationship can be with them.

Dog signals are sometimes misunderstood and misinterpreted by us humans. Owners sometimes think a dog who is growling at someone is vicious and owners will remove them from the situation or just say ‘sorry’ it is the way he is.  We also see this situation in dogs where owners say she is afraid of that dog or human and usually just cowers, this is just how she is.  These two examples are human misunderstanding of the dog signals.  How to interpret and overcome the situation for a happy healthy relationship with your dog is what we teach in our training.

Here are a couple of examples of misunderstood dog signals and how we taught the owners to interpret and change the signals:

  • We had a dog recently in our class that growled when I first came near to greet.  Over the next 5 weeks we worked on socializing him as described below and by the fifth class I could go up ‘ask to pet the owners dog’ and pet under the chin with no growling whatsoever.  How did this happen?  The owner did not tell the dog it was OK… don’t be afraid…as us humans sometimes like to do. He simply helped the dog be protected from being overwhelmed when she was approached allowing her to be more comfortable and build confidence in dealing with this situation.  A dog that is growling at someone may not be looking to be ‘aggressive’. They are actually telling you they are uncomfortable with the situation. Will they bite if the person gets to close?  Yes it is possible as the only way for them to protect themselves. What to do in this situation is to gradually socialize them in the environment they are having difficulty with. If it is a human don’t make the dog be petted by the human on the first instance. Have the human first come close and toss a few treats than gradually work up to closer and closer and eventually allow the dog to take the treats out of the hand.  You can than try to have the human approach and pet ‘under the chin’ as those who have taken my classes are told to do.  Don’t rush it if the dog is uncomfortable go back a step and keep trying.
  • Our second example is with a dog named Eva.  Eva has sight in one eye only who was being overwhelmed at the Dog Park with dogs jumping on her as she assumed a ‘submissive position’.   Eva’s owner was told by the other Dog Park owners that it was just how she was.  Eva then became afraid of every dog everywhere.   Again in this case the misinterpretation of her signals caused her behaviour to change:  Instead of growling to protect herself she was somewhat taking flight in a submissive position. What was needed for Eva was for her owner to move the other dogs away to allow her to deal with the situation and build confidence to handle better.  Eva and her owner have learned through training and socialization in the right environment that the Dog Park owners were not correct. She has gained confidence and now happily plays in the Dog Parks and on walks will pass any dog with confidence knowing her owner will protect her if needed in this situation.

Learning what each sign means comes with time, patience and effective training for both you and your dog.  If you want to learn how to interpret and understand your dog’s signals, take a class to not only watch your dog but learn from watching other humans and dogs.


At The Dog Stop we are dedicated to ensuring that you and your pet have a long and healthy relationship.  We offer training for every age and stage for your dog.  Visit our Training page for details:  The Dog Stop Training